Firefighters risk their lives daily to help save others from danger. They bravely run into harm’s way while others flee in the opposite direction. This selfless act defines their profession.
Another part of the profession — that often isn’t so obvious — is their risk of developing mesothelioma.
Almost all buildings — both residential and commercial — built prior to the 1980s were done using asbestos, an ultra-fine mineral resistant to heat. Asbestos was used for much of the Twentieth Century — and even in the centuries before — to protect flammable objects or building components from fires.
Asbestos – among the most dangerous substances to breathe – is also among the most common in burning or collapsing buildings.
Firefighters are at risk of exposure to asbestos and other respiratory toxins that could be released in a fire.
Asbestos is also the only known cause of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that forms in either the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart.
A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that firefighters are twice as likely to develop mesothelioma compared to the general public.
These four questions are the most important for firefighters who interact with asbestos on a regular basis.
How Does Mesothelioma Develop?
When asbestos particles flake off, they float in the air due to their microscopic size and low weight.
Anyone nearby can breathe in or swallow these fibers, which can irritate the cells, then mutate and become cancerous.
Avoiding loose asbestos particles is nearly impossible for firefighters. Wearing protective gear is one safety measure available, but asbestos sometimes sticks to the clothing and can be inhaled or ingested later.
Which Building and Construction Materials Contain Asbestos?
Many construction materials included asbestos to prevent fires and insulate the building. Some of the most common include:
- Roofing and siding
- Floor tiles
- Electrical wiring
- Insulation in the walls and ceiling
- Household appliances (such as oven mitts, hairdryers, toasters, ovens and electrical sockets)
If a house catches fire, the asbestos around any of these items or materials could be released into the air. Thus, any firefighters entering or near the building are in danger.
How Do You Know if You Have Mesothelioma?
Answering this question is difficult because mesothelioma has a long latency period, which means it takes many years to develop. Most studies suggest that the cancer forms between 20 and 50 years after asbestos fibers lodge into the cells.
Therefore, connecting your mesothelioma diagnosis to exposure is difficult. Most firefighters who develop mesothelioma are unaware how the cancer formed. They can’t determine exactly which job or building led to their exposure.
However, there are medical tips for firefighters. Whether they are currently working in the occupation or retired, they should receive regular check-ups with a doctor to ensure there are no masses forming.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive, fast-spreading cancer. Early detection is the most effective way to halt this spreading and attack it with treatment.
Safety Tips for Firefighters
The increased risk of asbestos exposure for firefighters means it’s important to prioritize safety. Firefighters should follow these safety tips to reduce their exposure:
- Wash all clothing and equipment on scene to avoid carrying asbestos into the home or other location (which can put more people at risk of exposure).
- Always wear a self-contained breathing apparatus to avoid inhaling asbestos dust while on the job.
- Wet down all areas that may include asbestos, as this prevents particles from entering the air.
- Learn as much as possible about which products and buildings contain asbestos and also what this mineral looks like.
About the Writer, Devin Golden
Devin Golden is the content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin’s objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.